Rather than wasting away in Hongdae over my short New Year’s vacation, I traveled to Jeju Island with Adventure Korea, a budget travel company catered to foreigners. I spent four days exploring the “Hawaii of Korea,” and although the temperature wasn’t quite Hawaiian-like, I thoroughly enjoyed walking along the coast, partying in Jeju’s biggest nightclub on New Year’s Eve, taking dorky photos dressed in Joseon Dynasty-era costumes, and fortunately NOT getting seasick on the ferry ride from the mainland and back.
On Friday night, our bus departed from Seoul around midnight. Thanks to all the bus rides I’ve taken with Adventure Korea, I’ve trained myself to sleep on public transportation. I slept like a baby on the seven hour bus ride, and on the ferry, when half of the group was violently puking in the toilet, I was probably drooling on myself. When our ferry docked in Jangheung Harbor, I had to be shaken awake.
After the hike, I happily slurped noodles from a giant bowl of kalguksu with fresh sea urchin, accompanied by kimchi and some vegetable side dishes. Some of the less adventurous eaters chose to eat bibimbap, but they clearly missed out on this local specialty.
Next, we raced through the Kimnyoung Maze Park, created by Dr. Frederic H. Dustin, an expat who fell in love with Korea and permanently moved to Jeju Island in 1971. There are seven symbols of Jeju within the design of the maze, including a snake from shamanistic ritual performances and a ship signifying Hendrick Hamil, the Dutch sailor who wrote about Jeju in the 1600s. The first three people to ring the silver bell at the end won a case of beer. Unfortunately, my poor sense of direction led me to a number of dead ends, but at least I didn’t come in last.
Shortly after the maze, we arrived at the Manjanggul Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprised of natural lava tubes. They were formed 300 to 100 thousand years ago, and the scale is quite impressive. You can even see lava flow lines along the walls.
After meandering through the lava tunnel, some people chose to ride ATVs, while others rode ponies around a track. I didn’t feel like doing either, so I sat with some others in a coffee shop, drank omija tea, and told stories about getting in fights with people on Facebook.
Although we were all tired from the long journey, we grabbed some drinks at 7-11 before arriving at our accommodation. We always stay at nice pensions or guest houses on Adventure Korea trips, usually on floor mats in traditional Korean-style rooms, but I was surprised at how upscale the Villae Resort was. Our room was a suite, consisting of a bathroom, living room, and one bedroom with a Western-style double bed and a double floor mat, suitable for four people. While the wind whipped and it snowed outside, the ondol, floor heating, made the room nice and cozy, and there was even a hairdryer next to the TV.
That night, some of us gathered around a coffee table in our living room, and played drinking games, finishing off several cans of beer and bottles of soju while getting to know each other a little too well.
On Sunday, I was a bit annoyed because nobody wanted to hike Hallasan with me, the highest mountain in Korea, which also happens to be a dormant volcano. However, when I discovered that the mountain was closed for the day due to strong winds and snow, I climbed onto the bus feeling better about the situation.
Opting for indoor activities, we began the day at LocaDio World, a museum devoted to Korean dramas. One could pose in the contemporary and historical sets, and dress up in Joseon Dynasty-era costumes.
I also really liked the post-Korean war sets in the basement, depicting Korean street scenes from the 50s, 60s and 70s.
After a hour of playing dress up, we moved onto the Jeju Trick Art Museum to pose some more. The museum recreates artistic masterpieces by using the trompe l’oeil technique, creating optical illusions on flat surfaces and allowing the viewer to interact with the characters in the painting. There are also installations and multi-dimensional sculptures using the same technique.
Elizabeth, another member on the trip, and I wandered through the museum taking photos of each in various scenes. To effectively utilize time and space, I would recommend partnering up with one person as you traverse through the museum. Make sure you choose the right person–trick art museums are not fun if people aren’t willing to bust out some dramatic poses and reveal their dorky side. Also, make sure your partner can take a decent photo. There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing your skilled poses butchered by ill-composed, blurry shots.
We briefly walked through a wax museum, where a number of famous people have been crafted from silicon. My favorite was not a famous person, but this highly-realistic exhausted traveler. That’s probably how I look on every bus ride.
We had some free time after all the museums, so while others strolled through the botanical gardens or visited the Teddy Bear museum, Elizabeth and I went for a walk along the coast. We climbed over lava rocks and walked through paths in the forest. Even though the snow continued to fall, it was invigorating to get some exercise and breathe in the fresh sea air.
That night, we returned to the resort for another night of relaxation and drinking Hallasan-brand soju. (For the record, it tasted the same as normal soju.) Half of our group indulged in a long-winded noraebang session (karaoke) conveniently located in the resort. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Justin Bieber or all the Disney songs that were requested (really, Justin Bieber?) I sang my fair share of the Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” and “Forgot About Dre.” The usuals. Towards the end of our session, some inebriated Koreans wandered into our room, and we invited them to sing with us. A man hijacked our list of songs, skillfully moving his ballad to the front, while one of the women tried to kiss Elizabeth. She also shoved her phone into my hand and demanded that I give her my number. I gladly complied, as we drunkenly made plans to meet up in Yeosu (their hometown.) The next day, I received a text that said “누구?” (Who?)
Well, that sums up the first two days on Jeju Island. Continue reading Part II for Monday and Tuesday’s visits to the beach, a Chinese acrobatic show, and New Year’s Eve in downtown Jeju, at a club that offered booking services that we were unaware of.
This trip is called “New Year Jeju Island Trip.” Adventure Korea leads this trip each year, and it costs 398,000 won (approximately $350), including a round-trip ferry ticket (Jeju-Jangheung), round-trip chartered bus (Seoul-Jangheung), 9 meals, accommodation (pension, Korean-style room) for 3 days, transportation in Jeju for 3 days (a Chartered Limousine bus), all entrance fees, and English speaking guides. For more trip options, visit Adventure Korea’s homepage.
*Note: This post was partially sponsored, but the opinions are, of course, my own.
-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ www.mappingwords.com. All rights reserved.